Bits and pieces

IMG_2776Labor Day is approaching.  In Anchorage it made me melancholy.  It signaled the end of an all-too-short—and therefore exceedingly precious—Anchorage summer.   And it meant that the long, gray (exceedingly gray) Anchorage winter was not far behind.  A winter that eventually turned me into a rabid sun worshiper.  This year is different.  Summer may be winding down, but we have an East Coast fall to enjoy and will be moving to warmer weather for the winter.

And, for the first time in decades, we are not workers this Labor Day.  I am savoring the sweet existence of retirement and the ability to do pretty much whatever the hell I want.  So, on Labor Day, I will lift a glass to all the workers who went before and made it possible for us to retire before we became broken down old drones.  And another glass to all who continue to work, wishing them luck in navigating the maze of labor and workplace issues today, with the shell of a labor movement limping, or in some cases, waddling, its way through the confusion.

On a purely selfish level, Labor Day allows us to breathe a sigh of relief because it means that the summer RV/campground season is coming to an end.  Having been insulated by the scarcity of people and immensity of land in Alaska, we did not really comprehend just how crowded campgrounds would be in the Lower 48.  We started this trip before the summer season hit and struggled to find campgrounds that were open.  But that early start gave us the luxury of staying in some amazing, nearly empty campgrounds while school was still in session.  As soon as school let out, we have had to vigilantly plan ahead to make sure that we have reservations some place—any place—every single weekend.

We went from this:

Just us--nobody else-at this amazing campground on the Cassiar Highway.

Just us–nobody else–at this amazing campground on the Cassiar Highway. 

To this:

Just us--and about a thousand other people--at this campground in Massachusetts

Just us–and at least a thousand other people–at this campground in Massachusetts.

Which brings me to the next bit of this post—campgrounds.  We have been relatively promiscuous when it comes to campgrounds.  We have stayed at wide variety, from bare-bone gravel lots to “resorts.” We try to keep an open mind, mix it up a bit, and enjoy what each has to offer.   Last week, in a few hours we moved from the pastoral and ocean serenity of Recompence Shore in Maine to the bustling, efficient Massachusetts family resort, Normandy Farms.

From a working farm,

IMG_1617

Sheep in the pasture at Recompence

to a trailer farm.

Trailers in the pasture.

Trailers at Normandy Farms with no farm in sight.

It was a culture shock.  My first reaction was horror at the sheer number of people in the campground (400 plus sites, so well over a thousand people).   But once I left my “what are these people thinking?” attitude behind, I started to understand the place.  It was a bit surreal and Disneylike–huge, meticulously groomed, highly organized, and over 100 cheerful, employees.  But it worked.  The place was enormous, with ball fields, basketball courts, fishing lake, bike park, fitness center, massage, sauna, four pools,  snack bar, bocce ball, Frisbee golf course, children’s ceramics classes, state-of-the-art horseshoe pit . . . you get the idea.  The place does what it does very well, with creativity and zeal—and it’s not cheap.

Normandy Farms streetscape

Normandy Farms streetscape

The recreation hall with its tangle of bikes

The recreation hall 

It was not our style, but we enjoyed seeing families spending time together—and seemingly having a lot of fun.  Kids were riding bikes all over the park, without parental hovering, to a variety of kid-geared activities, while their parents relaxed and socialized. Our neighbors, like many there, were enjoying some three-generational bonding, with a full outdoor set-up of a movie-style popcorn popper, a stack of short 2X4’s labelled “Adult Jenga,” booze, and an elaborate corn-hole game.

 

Even the dog park was adorable

Even the dog park was adorable,.

and amazing, with a washing area and kennel

and amazing, with a washing area and kennel.

Which brings me to the final piece of this post—the reason we were there in the first place was that we had to make an 8 am Monday appointment for our refrigerator repair and this was the nearest campground to the RV place.  We hitched up the night before so that we could creep out early during the official “quiet time.”  After two days in the shop, our refrigerator is working.   Labor Day and cold food—good to go.

Cold temps to warm our hearts

Cold temps to warm our hearts

We now are happily parked in our kindhearted relatives’ (thank you) driveway enjoying time with them and exploring and revisiting the South Shore below Boston, where George grew up.  We are going to spend some time in Boston and Cape Cod in the next few weeks and then head south.  Zoe may not want to leave because she is in love with everyone here—human and dog-wise.

Path to the dog beach in Plymouth

Path to the dog beach in Plymouth 

Lots of birders in the marshes heading to the dog beach

Lots of birders in the marshes by the dog beach

Dog beach in Plymouth

The beach itself

One happy dog

One happy dog 

With her gorgeous cousin, Smokey

With her gorgeous cousin, Smokey

Enjoy Labor Day.

The Boston skyline from Hough's (or Houghs) Neck in Quincy

The Boston skyline from Hough’s (or Houghs) Neck in Quincy.

Hough's Neck

Hough’s Neck

George's home at Hough's Neck when he was in late elementary school

George’s home at Hough’s Neck when he was in late elementary school

Looking forward to some Boston time

Looking forward to some Boston time

 

Recompence

Maine-33Maine has been good to us.  We were seeking some down time and we got it.  The weather was the best New England has to offer, mostly sunny, breezy and warm, with little humidity.  The food was amazing—summer garden vegetables at their peak, local meat and bread, and lobster and steamers straight from the ocean.  And three campgrounds—with three slices of campground culture—all different, all good, all doggy.

IMG_2661

We spent our first two weeks at Camden Hills State Park, a lovely temporary home.  Years ago, on our only previous Maine camping trip, we arrived at a crowded hell-hole of a campground in Damariscotta where we had a reservation.  Reservation be damned, we turned right around and continued on.  We ended up finding Camden Hills, which was a serene sanctuary in contrast.  On this trip, it lived up to my memory.

The campground is just outside of Camden.  It has an open field with an old farmhouse fronting the road, but most of the campsites are in dense woods.  It’s mostly filled with tents and tiny trailers, a wonderful mix of camping ingenuity, on large, larger, and immense campsites.

Upper loop at Camden Hills with huge sites, as long as you don't need hookups

Upper loop at Camden Hills with huge sites, no hookups

There were not many fifth-wheels or Class A RVs—it was tent country.  Young, middle-aged, and ancient couples set up all manner of tent compounds, including one three room tent with little crawlways between each room.  We watched a couple across from us set up tent, tarp, kitchen, clothesline, and wood pile with military precision.  They were at least our age and undaunted by the impending rain.  We felt almost soft and citified in our trailer.  Well, not really.

In the West, our 22’ trailer is comparatively tiny.  But, in Camden Hills, we were one of the big boys on the block. There were itsy-bitsy tear-drops, Casitas, Bambi-sized Airstreams, and several varieties of Roadtrek/Sprinter vans.

Not only was the campground beautiful and spacious, but it was backed by miles of hiking trails, of which we took full advantage.  The only downside to the park was that it was so wooded and shady that I was afraid we would have moss on the roof by the time we left.

In the Camden woods

In the Camden woods

We emerged into the sun and headed up to Searsport Shores, our second Maine campground.  I think of it as the drinking with dogs campground.  The owners obviously have put a great deal of love into the place.  They have gardens, goats, sheep, weekly lobster bakes, and whimsical ironwork and wood sculptures in paths through the woods.  It is on the ocean and many of the waterfront sites have personal decks (although some look out on the Searsport chemical plant).  It’s a bit crowded, but not too bad for a private park.  When we arrived, George asked if dogs were allowed on the beach.  The response was, “Of course, dogs are allowed everywhere here.”  Almost everyone had at least one dog.  Zoe loved it, with daily swims on the beach and tide-pooling at low tide.

Zoe found her stick at the Searsport Shore beach.

Zoe found her stick at the Searsport Shores beach.

She found a fetching stick that she carried back and forth from the campsite to the beach every day.  We were bad and brought it to the next campground with us, even though there are dire warnings everywhere about transporting pests by bringing firewood from campground to campground.  She still has the stick.

Zoe brought her stick to Freeport.

Zoe brought her stick to Freeport.

Every afternoon, people paraded around the campground conspicuously carrying large drinks.  They didn’t seem to socialize much, so I never did figure out what the drink cruising was all about.  It was fun to watch, though.

Maine seemed much more dog friendly than the rest of New England.  For instance, you cannot have a dog at state park campgrounds in Connecticut or Rhode Island.  In Maine, on the other hand, Zoe was welcomed everywhere we went (except for Miller’s Lobster).  There were lots of places where she could swim and she ate with us outside at the Boatyard Grill in Blue Hill and at Young’s Lobster Pound in Belfast.  She was a happy camper.  And all the saltwater swimming has rusted her collar so much that it’s turning her neck fur orange.

Boatyard Grill

Back of the Boatyard Grill  

Deer Isle Bridge

Deer Isle Bridge–we drove all around Deer Isle and the Blue Hill Peninsula

Haying at Recompence.

Haying at Recompence.

Finally, there was Recompence.  Our third Maine campground was utterly unique.  Recompence Shore is part of a non-profit—Wolfe’s Neck Farm—an educational show farm on a peninsula in Casco Bay near Freeport.

Wolfe's Neck Farm sheep

Wolfe’s Neck Farm sheep

The Wolfe's Neck estuary at high tide

The Wolfe’s Neck estuary at high tide

The estuary at low tide, clamming time

The estuary at low tide, clamming time

It’s not designed for large RVs, but for us it was about perfect.  The campsites form a necklace around the farm, which has sheep, cattle, hay fields, and gardens.  They have a summer camp program, which looked absolutely wonderful, kayak rentals, a farm stand with meat and produce from the farm, and a small snack hut with locally-sourced food.

The farm cattle, Belted Galloways, or oreo cows

The farm cattle, Belted Galloways, or Oreo cows 

Garden sunflowers were covered with bees

The sunflowers were covered with bees

Close up you can see the individual flowerets within  the sunflower

Close up you can see the individual florets within the sunflower

It was mostly dead calm when we went kayaking

It was mostly dead calm when we went kayaking

With birds everywhere, including these cormorants

With birds everywhere, including these cormorants.  

We loved it and hated to leave.

IMG_2628

Maine-29

 

Belfast–Maine not Ireland

IMG_1540Belfast is a little gem of a town.  It is about a thirty-minute drive along the coast from Camden.  But, where Camden is a serene, elegant dowager, Belfast is a quirky old uncle with strange tattoos.  It is a visual smorgasbord of angles, colors, and textures.  And its nineteenth century builders and designers paid meticulous attention to the smallest details, making the ordinary something special.

Belfast bank

Belfast bank

Rooftops from harbor

Rooftops from harbor

IMG_1554

IMG_1572_edited-1

The streets are populated by a mish mash of tourists, native Mainers, aging hippie-types, youngish hipster-types, and a few individuals with all of their belongings in shopping carts–the first homeless I’ve seen along this stretch of the coast.

IMG_1550

The downtown winds up a hill from the harbor, which was buzzing with activity.

IMG_1566

The boatyard was busy, plein air painters were scattered at strategic intervals around the harbor, and boats of all shapes and sizes were coming and going.

Boatyard

Boatyard

This woman was stationed over the painter's shoulder for a very long time

This woman was stationed over the painter’s shoulder for a very long time.

IMG_1537Belfast likes its colors.

I love a red tugboat.  These were almost blinding.

Brilliant, immaculate red tugs.  

Front yards that made me  stop in appreciation.

Front yards that made me stop in appreciation.

Lots of old-style painted ads on building fronts and sides

Lots of old-style painted ads on building fronts and sides

Boat repair

Even a boat repair lot was striking for its colors

And then there was the theater

And then there was the theater

There are some lovely old buildings sadly falling past the point of no repair.

IMG_1514

The civil war memorial was striking in its brevity.  I have been reading a biography of E.B. White, who lived one peninsula over.  His mantra for writers was to omit needless words.  No wonder he loved Maine—no need of his reminder here.

IMG_1570

When you travel, some towns just strike a chord with you.  For me, Belfast is one of those towns.

 

 

Two hikes or sweating with small stuff

Enjoying blueberries

Enjoying blueberries

The hills behind Camden are filled with hiking trails.  We have done little hiking on this trip because it has been too hot for Zoe.  Although our Alaskan girl is slowly getting used to the heat and enjoys her walks, rigorous hiking would be tough on her.  She is, after all, an old dog now.  But we hate to leave her behind.  So, George and I have been taking advantage of the safe, easily accessible trails in Camden for a bit of solo hiking.

At the beginning of my first hike, up Mount Megunticook, I became intensely homesick for Alaska.  Even the lowliest Alaskan hikes are magnificent, with expansive views, big mountains, and huge skies.  East Coast hiking consists mostly of a green tunnel under the trees.  I know it all too well because I grew up on it–lots of roots and rocks, green leaves, and mud.  Not much variety.

IMG_2524

Rocks, roots, and a stream

After mentally grumbling for a bit, I got into the physical rhythm of the hike and started to enjoy myself.  And, unlike many New England hikes, this trail emerged from the tree tunnel to several beautiful overlooks of Penobscot Bay.  I felt better.

IMG_2547

A bit of rock scrambling near the top

IMG_2519

The bay

Megunticook overlook, the hill below is Mount Battie

Megunticook overlook, the hill with the road to the right is Mount Battie

It was nice to be able to hike alone and not have to worry about bears all of time.  And, on the way down, I decided to start noticing and appreciating the small stuff.  Especially the mushrooms, which were everywhere.  There is a woman at the Camden Farmer’s Market who sells Chicken in the Woods, Black Trumpets, Lobster, and Chanterelle mushrooms–all locally foraged–along with the more common varieties.   This is fungi heaven, apparently.

IMG_2540

I doubt that this little fungus beauty is edible, but it sure would look nice in an omelet

Indian pipes

Indian pipes

Root patterns

Root patterns

Today I hiked up Mount Battie (we previously drove to the top).  The trail was busy with hikers and I realized that all the years of Alaskan hiking have paid off.  It was an easy little hike by Alaskan standards and I was feeling pretty cocky breezing right by everyone on the trail.

WWI memorial tower on Mount Battie

WWI memorial tower on Mount Battie

Then I came to a group of eight expensively clad and coiffed hikers in their forties.  They looked like country club types, which was confirmed when I got stuck behind them and heard them complain about the pool at their country club.

The women at the back of their group were walking two-abreast and I was trying to decide how best to pass them when one woman said, “Would you like to get by?”  “Yes, please.”  As they gave me room to pass, another woman laughed and said, “Oh great, we’re falling behind the geriatric tour.”

I badly wished that I had an “Alaska Girls Kick Ass” bumper sticker on my pack for them to view as I left those cows far behind.  Ha, eat my dust.  Better an old dog than a rude bitch. Maine-28

Partially chilling in Maine

IMG_1478

We are relaxing in Maine.  We intended to head farther north to the Canadian Maritimes, but changed plans after our refrigerator’s death.  It had been ailing for months.  When we tried to get it fixed in Bend, Oregon, the truly unhelpful folks there dismissed its struggle to keep a healthy temperature as just the nature of RV refrigerators.  Their solution was to sell us a little plastic fan for its interior.  Thanks.  Soon after, the refrigerator died altogether.

Our efforts to get the fridge fixed in Massachusetts did not run smoothly, but it looks like we are making progress.  Once they finally looked at it, the service people agreed that the fridge is dead and we now are waiting for parts.  In the meantime, we are enjoying a few weeks of down time in Maine. After our frenetic month of visiting and traveling in July, we needed to slow down.

And slow down we have.  We have been doing lots of cooking and eating.  Everywhere you turn here there are organic farms, farmers’ markets, and aging back-to-the-land baby boomers.  We fit right in.

The seafood is spectacular.  We had fresh lobster, steamers, and mussels at Miller’s Lobster in Spruce Head for George’s birthday.  It is lobster molting season, which means that those with new, or soft, shells are available.  They have less meat but are supposed to be tastier.  Ours was exquisitely delicious. The view was not bad either.

Miller's is right at the dock.

Miller’s is right at the dock.

We watched the lobstermen unload their catches as we ate.

We watched the lobstermen unload their catches as we ate.

We have been staying near Camden and exploring the Penobscot Bay area.  Camden is a picture-perfect old seaport town, full of money, tourists, and quaint shops and restaurants.  It is backed by rocky bluffs—Mounts Battie and Megunticook—and faces the low islands of the Bay.

View of Mount Battie from town.

View of Mount Battie from town.

View of Camden Harbor from Mt. Battie

View of town from Mt. Battie–it was hot and hazy

Another view from Battie

Another view from Battie–not much privacy in that yard

There are meticulously-kept houses of all architectural styles, mostly from the 1800s, many with huge perennial gardens.

One of the many old inns in town

One of the many old inns in town

I loved this stone wall, with huge perfectly egg-shaped rocks lining the top

I loved this stone wall, with huge perfectly egg-shaped rocks lining the top

It's a good climate for perennials

It’s a good climate for perennials

It is molting season for the ducks and geese, as well as the lobsters.  They were gathered in the harbor, flapping their wings in the water and preening, producing clumps of down that drifted along the water.

IMG_1480

IMG_1470 IMG_1484 IMG_1490

The harbor was full of sailboats and a mega yacht named “Grumpy.”

IMG_1458

View from the library lawn

IMG_1474

A beauty

Grumpy

Grumpy

A lovely old library sits above the harbor, with Edna St. Vincent Millay’s statue on the lawn behind. One of my favorite poets–she lived her early years here and in neighboring Rockland.

IMG_1468

We are buttoning down for a thunderstorm and may have to change our grilling plans for dinner.  It is a tough life.

As long as I can roll with my stick, I'm happy

As long as I can roll with my stick, I’m happy